The National Cycle Network is a network of signed paths and routes for walking, cycling and exploring outdoors. At 16,575 miles it spans the UK, connecting people and places and providing traffic-free spaces for everyone to enjoy.
Connecting people and places
The National Cycle Network is used by 4.4 million people a year and runs into town centres, past schools and through stunning countryside from Cornwall to the Shetland Isles.
Despite its name, the Network is for everyone. It is popular with walkers, joggers, wheelchair users and horse riders as well as people on bikes.
Over half of the UK population lives within a mile of their nearest route, giving them the choice to walk and ride to work, school, the shops and local park, or just for leisure. Chances are there’s a route near you.
Did you know?
- In 2017, 786 million trips were made on the National Cycle Network.
- In 2017, there were 410 million walking trips and 377 million cycling trips on the Network.
- Over 80% of the people using the Network are adults (83% of people cycling and 88% of walkers)
- 4% of users on a bicycle are new, or returning to cycling.
- 56% of journeys are taken for functional reasons, such as travelling to work, taking the children to school, visiting the shops or visiting friends.
- 44% of journeys are taken for leisure.
- The National Cycle Network benefits the UK economy by an estimated £1.3 billion through health, congestion and environmental benefits.
- Leisure and tourism trips on the Network contribute £2.5 billion to local businesses.
A memorable journey
The National Cycle Network is used and enjoyed every day of the year and for every kind of journey - from the school run and commute to weekend bike rides and long-distance challenge rides.
Whatever your journey on the Network, we want it to more than just a way of getting from A to B. That’s why we commission local artists to develop artwork on the routes that makes your journey memorable. And it’s why we are working hard to conserve wildlife and habitats on the traffic-free routes, ensuring biodiversity thrives.
How the Network began
The beginnings of the National Cycle Network can be traced back to Sustrans’ own in 1977 and the volunteers who turned a disused railway line into the 13-mile Bristol and Bath Path. This inspired the creation of further routes around the UK until naturally, we started to dream about joining them up.
In 1995, we campaigned and won the first ever National Lottery grant from the Millennium Commission to create our vision of a UK-wide network of high-quality, convenient routes for walking and cycling. Since then, we have worked with hundreds of partners to grow the Network into every corner of the UK.
See our timeline for more about our 40-year history: Sustrans at 40.
Ownership of the National Cycle Network
Sustrans is the custodian of the National Cycle Network and works collaboratively with many partners and stakeholders to run and develop this UK-wide asset for everyone.
The vast majority (98.5%) of the National Cycle Network isn’t owned by Sustrans but by a variety of landowners who are supported in caring for it by our staff, over 3,200 Sustrans volunteers and many of the communities it serves.
Approximately two-thirds of the Network is the public highway. The remaining off-road and traffic-free sections are owned by local authorities and other landowners including Network Rail, , the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, the Canal and River Trust and individuals Sustrans owns only 1.5% and has access rights over a further 1.5%.
Find out more about our custodian role.
The impact of the Network
When we started creating the National Cycle Network in 1995 we couldn’t have foreseen the tremendous impact it has on people’s lives, the environment and economy. All over the world others have been inspired by the Network and used it as a blueprint for developing their own cycling networks.
For people, the value of the Network is its contribution to their social, physical and environmental wellbeing and the links it makes between communities. The Network is on the doorstep of millions of people across the UK and it helps them get to the local park, commute and enjoy outdoor adventures, whether they live in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland or England.
Each year the Network benefits the UK economy by nearly £88 million through reduced road congestion. Of the 1.9 billion miles travelled on the Network in 2017, 437 million miles could have been made using a car instead.
The health benefits associated with walking and cycling on the Network in 2017 alone prevented 630 early deaths, and averted nearly 8,000 serious long-term health conditions. Leisure and tourist users contribute £2.5 billion to local economies.
Our vision for the National Cycle Network
Our vision for the National Cycle Network is a UK-wide network of traffic-free paths for everyone, connecting cities, towns and countryside, loved by the communities they serve.
We want to create a safe and accessible traffic-free Network. A Network that could be used by a sensible 12-year-old travelling alone. Currently only a third of the Network is traffic-free, but we know that these are the most valued routes, providing safe spaces to move and be.
Traffic-free paths designed for cycling are ideal for pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The unique nature of these mostly quiet spaces connecting countryside with towns and cities makes them useful for people travelling in ways where separation from traffic is welcome, or even life-changing.
Our shared, long-term vision for the Network speaks to all its users. To people who use it now and those who want to but can’t, particularly those who face mobility challenges and the less physically active.
Learn more about our recent review of the National Cycle Network and future vision.
Maintaining the National Cycle Network
Responsibility for maintenance of the routes lies mainly with local authorities and the Highways Agency and other landowners like the National Trust, Network Rail and the Canal and River Trust. Sustrans owns a small proportion of the National Cycle Network, and for 80% of this land we are responsible for its upkeep. Sustrans is also contracted to maintain land on behalf of some local authorities.
Local communities and volunteers play a vital role in supporting the Network.
We have a large community of volunteers who help to look after and promote the paths in their area. They carry out a broad range of tasks to keep paths looking their best, ensuring signage is consistent and easy to navigate, and encouraging people to make the most of their local paths.
Funding the maintenance and improvement of the Network
Caring for the Network is a costly and ongoing challenge. Each year we spend around £1.3 million fulfilling our routine maintenance responsibilities on the parts of the National Cycle Network we own. We also support thousands of volunteers who kindly give up their time to help keep paths clear of vegetation, glass and other hazards, replace signs, and improve the paths for everyone to enjoy.
Our bold vision for a safe and accessible traffic-free National Cycle Network can only be achieved in partnership with our valued partners, donors, volunteers and community friends.
Realising the vision will require considerable levels of funding to carry out the proposed improvements and ongoing maintenance. Funding needs to come from a range of sources, including governments, individuals, donations, businesses, trusts and foundations.